CANBERRA – Australia’s attorney-general denied having sexual contact with a 16-year-old who had accused him of raping her 33 years ago and said Wednesday he would not resign as the nation's top law officer.
Christian Porter instead said he would take leave to care for his mental health after the allegations recently became public.
“I’m going to take a couple of short weeks leave just for my own sanity,” Porter told reporters. “I think that I will be able to return from that and do my job.”
The accuser took her own life last year, and her allegations against Porter became public last week when they were sent anonymously to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other lawmakers.
Media had reported the alleged rapist was one of the 16 men in Morrison’s 22-member Cabinet, but Porter was widely identified online.
The 50-year-old former criminal prosecutor said he decided to speak out after police said Tuesday there was insufficient admissible evidence to proceed with a criminal investigation.
Prominent lawyers and the woman’s friends have called for an independent inquiry to test the evidence against Porter.
Morrison has noted Porter’s denials and said the allegations should be left with police to handle.
Porter said any inquiry into the allegation would require him to “disapprove something that didn’t happen 33 years ago.”
Buy Michael Bradley, the alleged victim’s former lawyer, said there would “trial by media” in the absence of a formal inquiry.
“We should all not want that to happen, but it’s going to happen if the allegation and his response are not tested in a proper formal process,” Bradley said.
Porter said the reported rape allegation did not warrant him standing down from his job.
“If I stand down from my position as attorney-general because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, then any person in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life’s work based on nothing more than an accusation that appears in print,” Porter said.
“If that happens, anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation,” he added.
Porter said he was 17 when he competed alongside the then-16-year-old accuser on a four-member school debate team in January 1988. He said he had not heard from her since.
“I did not sleep with the (alleged) victim. We didn’t have anything of that nature happen between us,” Porter said.
“I remember the person as an intelligent, bright, happy person,” he added.
The woman has not been named. Police are preparing evidence to help a coroner determine the cause of her death.
The case has added to intensifying scrutiny of attitudes toward sexual harassment and violence in Parliament after a staffer made an unrelated allegation two weeks ago that she had been raped by a senior colleague in a minister's office.
The government notified Parliament House staff in an email this week of a new confidential complaints hotline for the reporting of serious workplace incidents.